Thursday, January 12th, 2012
Language arts teacher Lacey Boland keeps her classroom fresh and modern at Independence Charter School in Center City, Philadelphia by combining the benefits of literature and technology. She has taken language arts to the blogosphere.
For the past two years, Boland has had her 7th graders write Six-Word Memoirs within the context of a blog with the short, yet all-encompassing title, 7Speaks. The blog assignments vary each week, and cover a wide-range of topics: Six-Word Memoirs, controversial current events, reflections on independent reading/shared class novels, and other prompts to get her students creatively cooking.
“Writing and responding to one another on the blog is a great equalizer,” says Boland. “Students who might be less inclined to raise a hand to share their writing aloud with the whole class can share their thoughts more easily on the blog. In fact, many of my students have said that sharing their writing on the blog has helped them to get to know one another better—which I hope helps to make 7th grade just a little easier.” As a painfully shy kid in class, but with plenty to say, I wish blogging had been around during my middle-school years—with an inventive teacher like Ms. Boland at the head of the class.
The blogosphere not only gives the stage-frightened an accessible platform with which to share their written thoughts, but also gives each student an opportunity to go public with his or her ruminations. “On the blog students write for real audiences not only for one another, but for the world, which increases their motivation and accountability in their writing, and provides a sense of purpose,” says Boland, adding that blogging is also a good medium to teach her students internet etiquette and safety.
Her six-word assignment begins, we’re pleased to report, on SMITH. Students start the exercise by reading Six-Word Memoirs and take it from there. Explains Boland: “After lessons on using punctuation powerfully, revising for descriptive and juicy words, and taking part in peer conferences, students are ready to publish. We look at other student examples of Six-Word Memoir slides on the web, and discuss how images and text can work together to tell a story.”
Video is an essential part of the class’s experience. Each class creates its own video of six-worders, chooses the accompanying music carefully. Boland has the students identify any themes they see in the memoirs as a whole, and then pick a song that best fits the overall theme. “Students get to see firsthand the effect that their words have on the viewer—gasps, laughter, and sighs fill the room as we watch each slide and read each student’s Six-Word memoir. This year when I posted the Six-Word Memoir videos on the blog I asked the students to tell the stories behind their memoirs. They were able to say so much in only six words, but their comments also showed how much more they were willing to share.”
The students were also asked to write Six-Word Memoirs from another person’s perspective. In one assignment, Boland’s students composed a Six-Word Memoir from the main character’s point of view in a novel they were reading. The notion was to offer a deep level of understanding about the internal and external conflicts the character was facing—her essence in six well-chosen words.
We give Boland’s six-word assignment an A+. “It’s a challenge even my most reluctant writers have enjoyed,” she reports. “Many continue to scribble Six-Word Memoirs in their notebooks; one student admitted to me last year, that she simply couldn’t stop‚ she ’saw’ Six-Word Memoirs everywhere.”
To view more videos from this inventive classroom, or read the insightful stories behind the memoirs, be sure to check out the 7Speaks blog.
Note: With the generous support of our publisher, Harper Perennial, we’ve created two free Six-Word Memoir lesson plans, one for our first book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, as well as one for our teen book, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. Download a PDF of either or both below. All we ask in return is this: let us know how six words works in your class. We love sharing your stories with the rest of the SMITH community.